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Baby's health

22nd Nov 2023

What to do if your baby has a breath-holding spell

breath-holding crying baby

Having a baby is equal parts amazing and terrifying

You have responsibility over this tiny human who depends on you to feed, bathe and put them to bed.

Now to add to the list of worries, some children go through what are called breath-holding spells.

Don’t panic, it’s not a right of passage, you don’t have to wait in fear of when they’ll start this, yet if they do, here’s all you need to know about it.

crying baby
Credit: Getty

What is a breath-holding spell?

Toddlers, and sometimes babies, can have breath-holding spells and actually, they’re fairly common, they happen in about 1 in 20 children.

A breath-holding spell may happen after a child has been upset or startled, such as a minor bump or a fright.

Though scary to watch, your child does not need any treatment. Your child may recover quickly or be unresponsive for a short period.

The types of breath-holding spells

There are two main types of these spells to be aware of and they are as follows:

  • If the child’s face turns blue, it’s called a cyanotic breath-holding spell. Usually, the child cries very hard and then has the spell. Cyanotic breath-holding spells are usually caused by anger or frustration.
  • If the child’s face turns white, it’s called a pallid breath-holding spell. The child may cry a little bit or not at all before having the spell. Pallid breath-holding spells are usually caused by the child being startled or in pain.

Both types of spells can make kids pass out for up to a minute. In the most extreme cases, kids might have seizures. Having a seizure does not cause any long-term harm or put a child at risk for a seizure disorder.

What should I do?

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If this is your child’s first breath-holding spell, get medical care. Although the spells aren’t harmful, it’s good to get your child checked out just to be sure.

If your child has a breath-holding spell:

  • Lay your child in the crib or on the floor.
  • Keep your child away from anything hard or sharp so they don’t hurt themselves.
  • Stay with your child.

If your child passes out:

  • Try to stay calm and reassure yourself that your child is safe.
  • Check your child’s mouth for food or any object that could cause choking.
  • Call 999 if your child remains blue or is not breathing for longer than a minute.
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Credit: Getty

After the breath-holding spell:

  • Reassure your child that everything is okay and that the spell is not their fault.

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